It may seem obvious that floodwater is dangerous. The sheer force of water can be very destructive, destroying buildings and sweeping away cars, causing loss of life and damage to property. However, floodwater is contaminated and Emeritus Professor John Pearn warns there are many ongoing dangers even when floodwater recedes.
Here is a summary of what to look for:
Remember, children are more vulnerable to contaminants than adults
Household testing found that children are exposed to greater amounts of contaminants than adults because in the child breathing zone (25cm above the floor) contaminants were five to 10 times higher than in the adult zone (100-150cm above the floor).
Recommendation: Keep kids out of clean up zones and beware of children near cleaning chemicals. Read more about household pollutants
What to do with a child car restraint that has been in flood water
Once a child car restraint is contaminated, it is very difficult to clean because chemical disinfectants and bleaches cause damage to the fabric and webbing that compromises the safety of the restraint.
Flood-born chemicals can also damage webbing and rust small metal components in child car restraints or capsules.
Recommendation: Child car restraints and baby capsules that have been through flood should be discarded and replaced.
Wildlife and insects seeking higher ground during flood
During floods, rats, snakes, ants, spiders and possums take refuge behind walls and in ceilings. This means there is an increased risk of bites or further damage to property. For example, ant nests in ceilings can cause problems with wiring.
Recommendation: To minimise unwanted animals, use mechanical traps instead of poisons and pellets, which are a danger to small children and pets. For the removal of rats, snakes, possums or bees, check your Yellow Pages for appropriately qualified removalists or call a local pest controller to treat ants and spider infestations.
Water-borne micro-organisms pose a health risk during flood
Floodwater and its residual sludge contain viruses, bacteria, protozoa and fungal hazards. When cleaning flood-affected items and environments it’s essential to wear protective long-sleeves, ankle-length pants, gloves and protective footwear such as gumboots.
Hepatitis is a risk if there has been sewage in the water. Additionally, bacteria such as e-coli, staphylococcus, streptococcus and salmonella can be ingested or enter open wounds.
Recommendation: Clean furniture, walls and household items (including cutlery and crockery) in three stages. First with water and detergent, then disinfectant, followed by a final clean with hot water and detergent. For clothing, sheets and towels, wash in water and detergent, then disinfectant, then in a hot/warm machine cycle with washing powder.
Protozoa such as Giardia causes gastric upset through ingestion. To avoid this wash your hands regularly with clean water and soap, followed by hand sanitiser.
Flood water increases the risk of mould and fungus
Once flood water recedes, increased humidity causes fungus and mould to flourish which can exacerbate asthma or affect people with compromised immune systems.
Recommendation: The best cleaning method is using clean water and scrubbing with bleach. However, bleach is too toxic around children and babies and instead, Kidsafe recommends washing walls, furniture and clothing with undiluted white vinegar.
Electrical safety after a flood
Never turn on appliances or light switches to ‘see’ if it is working if they have been submerged in floodwater.
Any appliances, household wiring or meter boxes that have been submerged should be checked by an electrician to ensure they are safe to use.
Rebuilding your home after flood damage
After a flood, household routines are in turmoil and parents are distracted with the massive task of cleaning and renovating. Here are some safety tips:
- During the cleanup phase, hazards such as detergents, tools, cleaning fluids, extension leads, plastic bags, buckets, open walls, windows and stairs are more accessible to kids. Consider making one room safe at a time and install a baby gate to keep kids where you know they are safe.
- Create a safe play area for kids where they can’t access the road or driveway particularly when cars are moving frequently with workmen and volunteers.
- If something needs to be demolished, check for asbestos which should only be removed by professionals.
- Remove any residual water that may be in puddles or buckets and this can be a drowning risk for small children.
- Remove and replace contaminated equipment for infants under 1 years of age. Toys and equipment for older children should be examined for suitability for three-part cleaning (as outlined above)
- Check outdoor play equipment for rusting and replace screws where necessary.
- Protect babies and toddlers from flies, mosquitoes and midges with screens or fans – avoiding nets due to the risk of entanglement. Only use plug-in devices or insect repellent on older children.
Need some advice?
Kidsafe Qld’s mission is to provide evidence-based practical advice to empower parents and caregivers to make informed choices to prevent childhood injuries. We are at your service and welcome any questions you might have around injury prevention and keeping kids safe at home, on the road and at play.
Call Kidsafe Qld: 3854 1829